I don’t think anyone can, or should, pass up the opportunity to spend the night on a private island with their best friends – two of whom happen to be accomplished chefs. The fine print, unfortunately, reads much different from the imagination.
The five of us had been on the road in Scotland, a few days into our ten day filmmaking odyssey, where we were attempting to make our own adventure travel show called Gentlemen of the World. The premise was that we’d intentionally be underprepared and overwilling – with no hotel reservations made, relying solely on the barter system for our survival, all the while trying to experience the purest Scottish experience.
Naturally, food is culture branding, so when Scottish chefs Ruaridh Emslie and Andy Waugh (of Mac & Wild) signed on to our adventure, we knew we’d be ingesting the best of Scotland. In this particular case, that meant a hundred hand-shucked scallops roasted five ways over a campfire on said private island off the coast of Scotland – in the pouring rain.
The plan had been to help Scottish scallop diver, James McFilthy, go diving for, well, scallops, but the weather turned and instead we were handed a bag of fresh scallops and dropped off on uninhabited Carna Island. This is where the glamour ends. Our new companions were sideways rain, wind, leaky tents, boots catching on fire, film equipment breaking, midgie attacks, wet socks… and all this with no kitchen, running water, electricity, bathrooms or beds for miles. And this setting is where we turned to our fancy chefs and said, “so when’s dinner ready?”
Hand shucking scallops is no easy task. These are living things that pulse and jump in your hand – and we were killing a hundred of them. But as Ru and Andy got to work, the others set up camp, hung hammocks (optimistically), flew (and crashed) the drone and built a fire (from wet wood); all the while trying to film the whole scene for our show. If islands could talk, this one would have been speechless.
Typically, in a setting like this, time is told by the level of inebriation. So the spinning stars were the ones to tell me we should eat soon. We’d brought a half-slab of cheap beer and a bottle of whisky. To most, these are considered beverages, but for us they would soon become seasonings. Since a hundred scallops between seven people means a good fifteen apiece, our chefs decide to cook them five ways, to avoid the sheer drudgery of eating them all one way.
Incidentally, this is also where the specifics of the story get a little sloshy. The first way, I remember, was a Spanish style of scallops quickly seared in the pan, leaving the outside caramelized crunchy and the inside tender and smooth. Andy and Ru then started on various camp flavours – garlic, whisky, brown sauce, cheap beer – and began experimenting. I honestly don’t remember the recipes, but that’s not what’s important, because I so vividly remember the joy of eating them.
Then we became drunk. But I don’t think it was just the beer and the whisky; our bodies were simply delighted by the amount and quality of the scallops and rewarded us with a sense of euphoria. For some of us, it was our first time eating scallops – and honestly, they were so good, and so fresh, it’s going to be hard to enjoy scallops anywhere else again.
As the fire slowly died, the pitter-patter of rain poured on our broken tents, a drunken conversation of Scottish EDM music gently rumbled in the distance, and we all fell asleep
on our private island, dreaming of warm beds and dry socks. (Thankfully, we remembered to film the chefs explaining the recipes as they made them – as that’s how you have them on
the next page.)
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